Profile with Almut Veraart

Almut Veraart (Germany & St. Anne’s 2004) is a Lecturer in Statistics at the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London. She is also an International Research Fellow at the Center for Research in Econometric Analysis of Time Series (CREATES) at Aarhus University and an Olga Taussky Pauli Fellow at the Wolfgang Pauli Institute in Vienna. Almut holds a DPhil and a Masters’ degree in Applied Statistics from the University of Oxford and a “Diplom” in Mathematics and Economics and a “Diplom” in Mathematics from the University of Ulm in Germany. She was recently awarded the Faculty of Natural Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching at Imperial College London.

Rhodes Project: What is the last book you read for pleasure?

Almut Veraart:  It’s called The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Zafon. This is a purely imaginary book; it is a sort of a ghost story, but I don’t want to give anything away! I like Zafon’s books in general and I try to catch all of them when the translation is out in English.

Rhodes Project:  When you were a kid, what did you aspire to be later in life?

Almut Veraart: I wanted to be a high school teacher of mathematics when I was little. It hasn’t changed too much!

Rhodes Project: Can you tell us about a current research project that you are working on?

Almut Veraart: One area that I am interested in is stochastic volatility modelling in financial applications. Volatility is associated with risk in financial markets, and hence we need to have reliable models for volatility and reliable measures of volatility. I am working on both model-building as well as on deriving estimates for stochastic volatility. Initially I worked mainly on volatility in time but more recently, I’ve started looking into volatility measures in time and space, so that one can assess tempo-spatial volatility not necessarily only in financial applications, but possibly also in the context of e.g. turbulence modelling in physics or in the environmental sciences.

I am also interested in stochastic modelling of energy markets. In particular, I investigate how one can model electricity prices. Since renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar play a key role in modern energy markets, we need reliable models which can take weather and climate variables into account. I am working on deriving new price models which can incorporate these renewable sources of energy. These models can hopefully be used for risk management and decision making within energy markets. 

Rhodes Project: How can academics play a more proactive role in applying research to the current financial environment? Are there any challenges to this?

Almut Veraart: The financial crisis has certainly triggered a debate about how scientific research in mathematical finance should progress. I think that more academic research should be directed towards financial risk management. Also, going forward, it is important that researchers make it even more clear what kind of modelling assumptions they use and that they stress that their conclusions only hold under these assumptions. In practice, however, we often find that some of these assumptions are not satisfied, which means that more research is required to come up with solutions under very realistic modelling assumptions.

Rhodes Project: What is your favourite part of being an academic?  

    Almut Veraart: The freedom to work on whichever research project I find interesting. After completing my PhD, my research focussed initially on research topics that were still somewhat related to my PhD topic.  At the same time, I came across a couple of new research areas which I find very interesting and I decided to venture into these entirely new areas. I very much enjoy this flexibility since it gives me the chance to explore and to contribute to so many different areas of mathematics and statistics. I think this aspect is pretty unique to being an academic. When you work in the industry, you will typically be much more restricted. 

Rhodes Project: If you could change one thing about the way students are taught mathematics/ statistics in schools today, what would it be?  

Almut Veraart: My impression is that mathematics in school is mainly about problem solving and doing lots of fairly standard calculations, there seems to be less focus on teaching rigorous logical arguments. So if I could change one thing I would probably introduce an “Introduction to Logic” session in the mathematics curriculum. I think it’s important to teach some basic logic at school. When students start their undergraduate studies in mathematics, they are typically very good at integrating or differentiating complicated functions, but when it comes to logical reasoning, they are much less prepared and it takes them some time to learn how to write down rigorous logical arguments.  This is however a very important skill to have – not only in mathematics!

Rhodes Project: As a lecturer, what is something that your students have taught you recently?

Almut Veraart: That many students prefer to learn through examples and applications. It’s important to present material slowly and to try to make the subject fun in some sense. Also, I learnt that it helps to give intuitive proofs before any rigorous mathematical proofs. If the students can see the “big picture”, they are typically much more prepared and willing to go through and digest long technical arguments.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman interested in joining the academia today?

Almut Veraart: To definitely do it! I think an academic job is very rewarding. Clearly, going for an academic career is not always easy and one has to be willing to possibly move a couple of times and to travel frequently to get to know other researchers and to promote your own research at conferences and workshops.  I find this aspect very interesting because you get to meet new people and can discuss new ideas. I would strongly encourage anyone interested in an academic career to go for it.

Rhodes Project: What do you do to relax?

Almut Veraart: I try to exercise regularly and I also meet friends and enjoy London. I used to do a lot of horse riding and rowing but now I rely on the gym or go running in the park. I very much like visiting the large museums here in London when they are putting up special exhibitions or visiting different neighbourhoods. Also it’s nice to just walk around and visit new places that I haven’t seen before, each neighbourhood is different and London is a very fascinating city.

Rhodes Project: If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go and why?

Almut Veraart: As a tourist I would like to go to Iceland. I have never been there and I would love to see the volcanoes, the geysers, the glaciers and maybe even ride an Icelandic pony.

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